In the ideal executive meeting, Tom Hosack would sit sans jacket and tie with BlackBerry in hand. But his older colleagues at Northwood Realty Services aren’t so quick to ditch tradition.
Two years ago, at age 37, Hosack replaced a president 25 years his senior at the real estate and financial services firm, steering 105 employees and 850 independent contractors to 2007 revenue of $30 million.
“The key is the beginning,” says Hosack, who is also the company’s chief operating officer. “You get your reputation in first couple months, and you live with it forever.”
Smart Business spoke with Hosack about how to build a reputation that spans the generations.
Q. What’s the first step for a young leader to begin building a reputation?
The older work force is very resistant to change. The more you try to change without understanding why the systems are built the way they are, the more they’ll ignore you.
Find the people that have been around the organization the longest and listen to them. Oftentimes, they actually saw the creation of a lot of the policies. If you listen to a history of the company and why certain things were formed, it will give you a much better understanding.
Identify a key person in the structure that’s very well-respected and try to have a mentor relationship with them. It allows you access to somebody to explain why things are the way they are. But you also get a certain amount of respect just from being associated with somebody that’s respected.
Ask them truthfully that what you want is their advice [on] how best to integrate into the system and how best to get their support. You start with asking them how they started and the challenges that they had and listen to their story.
Q. How do you get buy-in before trust is built?
You have to make sure that, especially starting out, the projects or ideas you undertake first are pretty simple, pretty concise, easy to explain and easy to justify.
If something seems really ingrained, people seem to be very loyal to it, [then] you obviously don’t want to go after that. You start with something that people aren’t that attached to. If it’s something that can be modernized, where something has significantly changed — like technology — then that’s a good place to start.
In a careful way, identify their bias toward [your ideas] by their age or by their nature. You can say things like, ‘I know to a very conservative person this seems a little wild, but if you look at it truthfully, you can see that the back side is limited.’
Throw yourself under the bus a little bit, too, and say, ‘I really want more, but I’ve tried to tone this one down,’ so that they realize that you’re trying to compromise.
If you’re dealing with people that are just like you that are disagreeing, you’re disagreeing purely on the content. When you’re dealing with people that are different generationally, you’re disagreeing on even how to judge the content. Sometimes they don’t understand what you’re trying to accomplish because they don’t understand the technology.
That’s a good time to point out what percentage of your company’s business is your generation. So when you pitch something, you’re saying, ‘Hey, I represent this market that you’re trying to reach. We have to make sure we stay current with the customers that are in that generation.’
Q. How do you compromise across generations?
You have to know the hierarchy of the most influential people. If you really watch a meeting or two, you’ll find out. They’re the people who don’t necessarily say a whole lot, but when they say something, everybody really heeds their advice.
If they’re against something, it almost never gets approved. If they’re for something, it almost always gets approved.
You have to [identify] who it is that disagrees with you. If it’s somebody that’s very influential, abandon it and move on to something else. If it’s somebody that’s not very influential, go to the people that are on your side and say before you present it, ‘Do you feel comfortable backing me up?’
You should always hit at least most of the management team one-on-one before you actually bring it out publicly so they’ve had an opportunity to express their objections. If you can get a couple of those key people to say, ‘I’ve been thinking about this; I think it’s a good idea,’ that starts to create that domino effect of everybody else going along.
When people don’t like a project, ask them, ‘What could change to this program that would make you support it?’ You can’t be everything to all people. But oftentimes, in that vetting process, your idea is refined and becomes even better.
The other thing that happens, too, is some people process information more slowly than others. They need to hear an idea several times before they feel comfortable with it. So if you present it a couple times, they start to think, ‘Oh, I’ve heard this before. It’s starting to grow on me.’
How to reach: Northwood Realty Services, (800) 715-3695 or www.northwood.com